The Pre-Order Gauntlet…(or Why Kickstarter is Kicking Ass)

| June 4, 2012 | 1 Comment

I happened on this post last week by Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of the upcoming Captain Marvel relaunch from Marvel Comics.  While I’m not that familiar with Kelly’s work, I’ve heard a few of her Word Balloon interviews, and she seems delightful.  Her post was essentially a call for pre-orders on her new series, and an education piece to potential readers about the direct market comics pre-ordering system…and why it can make or break the trajectory of her new book.

The fact that Kelly needed to start her post with “Okay. Deep breath...” pretty much tells you all you need to know about how ridiculously inaccessible the current pre-ordering system is to the average Joe or Jane.

Kelly does a great job explaining the value of pre-ordering comics from the reader, retailer and publisher’s perspective.  She writes:

“When you pre-order a comic with your local shop, you are registering your intent to buy said comic.  If the shop knows you’re going to buy, well then, that’s a no-brainer sale for them, isn’t it?  Most stores will reward a guaranteed purchase with a discount.  And at some stores the discounts get deeper if you subscribe to (“pull”) a title, and deeper still if you pull multiple titles.  If they get enough pre-orders on a book, the book has “buzz” and they may take a chance and order a few extra copies for the shelf as well.  Orders numbers go up, customer is happy, publisher is happy, book exists for at least another month.  Everybody wins!”

Most of us have heard this all before.  We know pre-ordering is important.  We know it helps our favorite shop, creators, and publishers.  And yet, most comic shop regulars and no casual comic fans ever bother to do it.  Why?

Well, Kelly goes on to post an 11-step pre-ordering process instruction set– instructions that involve downloading a PDF, printing it out, filling in information, locating a comic shop in your area, getting in your car and driving there to drop it off, and doing all of this some 8 weeks before the book will even be available for you to buy…well, it’s not hard to see why few people actually do it.*

Kelly’s entire well-written post explaining the whys and hows of pre-ordering, plus addenda, runs some 2300 words.  It’s not that she’s waxing poetic, here.  That’s just what it takes to accurately describe this system which has gone largely unchanged for the past several decades.

Just for Comparison’s Sake…

Let’s turn now to another way of pre-ordering…this a system that was created this decade.

Check out Mark Andrew Smith and James Stakoe‘s Sullivan’s Sluggers Kickstarter pre-order campaign.

But wait, I thought Kickstarter was a crowdfunding site?  That’s different than pre-orders, isn’t it?

In this case, no, not really.

Smith set a low goal of $6,000 to print this nice looking 200-page hardcover.  Now, I’ve done pricing on hardcovers recently, and I’ve heard Smith do some podcasts talking about the project…he deliberately kept the goal of the campaign low.  To actually print that book, I figure he’d need to raise closer to $10,000 through Kickstarter, but I think he realized that this wasn’t primarily a crowd funding campaign…this was a product selling pre-order campaign.  (He hit the low goal on the first day of the campaign, and has raised some $58K in pre-orders.  Looks like it’s working out.)

Pre-ordering Kelly’s Marvel book and Mark’s Sluggers has the same basic effect…book sales go up and money trickles to the creative team.  But look at how much freaking easier it is for the CONSUMER to pre-order through Kickstarter as opposed to the direct market:

- Someone who has never pledged to a Kickstarter campaign before can do so in as little as 5 clicks.  And if you’ve pledged before…as little as three!

- With Kickstarter, there’s nothing to print out, nowhere to drive to, no filthy human interaction act all!  Pre-ordering is as easy as buying shoes from Zappos or books from Amazon…and if you have an Amazon account (and who doesn’t) your credit card information is already in there.  You can pre-order through Kickstarter on an impulse.

- There’s transparency…for both the creators and the supporters.  Every new pre-order pledge on Kickstarter raises the total $ amount and grows that green progress bar.  You see how many fellow supporters you’re joining.  Compare that to the traditional pre-order system, where a consumer might wonder if her or she is the only person pre-ordering a book on the planet, and thus not making much of a difference.

- And for creators, Kickstarter lets you know from day one how the pre-order campaign is doing.  You can see in real-time what effect, if any, the promotion you do is having on the campaign, and adjust on the fly should you choose to do so.  Contrast that with the black box that is the Diamond pre-order system.  The pre-order window for books lasts roughly the same amount of time as the average Kickstarter campaign- 30 days.  But with Diamond, you won’t know your numbers until it’s too late to do anything about them.

- And finally, as Mark explained in this great post, Kickstarter “inverts the funnel” and ensures that the pre-order funds end up in the creator’s hands FIRST, before going to the printers, and any distributors.  It’s eye-opening to think that, even with a couple of well-regarded Image mini-series under his belt (Gladstone’s School for World Conquerers), Sullivan’s Sluggers may be the first comic project that nets Mark a profit for his effort and talent.

If that doesn’t get creators’ attention, I’m not sure what will.

Running the Diamond Pre-Order Gauntlet

I don’t know that the direct market pre-order system is broken as much as it’s just old and doesn’t take into account how consumers behave anymore.  We are a “want it now, whine if it’s not on Netflix or Youtube, if it’s too hard I’m not doing it” culture.  Kickstarter takes that into account and thrives.  The direct market system largely ignores it.

And yet, this month, we here at ComixTribe are most certainly running the Diamond pre-order gauntlet.

SCAM #1 is in the JUNE PREVIEWS (DIAMOND ID: JUN121002 Previews page 275 to be exact.)

The next 30 days are crucial for the series:
  • Previews arrived in retail shops around the world on Wednesday, May 29.
  • Retailers INITIAL orders are due 6/28.
  • FINAL ORDERS from retailers are due 7/6.
  • ComixTribe gets our purchase order for SCAM #1 on July 10.
Just so you know the pre-order mountain we have to climb:
- If our purchase order is below 1,600 copies, we are in grave danger of getting the order canceled, and the book not being available in stores.
- If our purchase order is above 1,600 copies, but below 2,500 or so, ComixTribe will LOSE money distributing through Diamond.  (Double-sized, full color book = expensive.)
One thing we won’t be doing is sitting idly by and hoping for the best.  Right now, we’re working hard to make sure retailers know about SCAM.  We’re mobilizing a Street Team to get into shops and show off the book.  We’re contacting retailers, sending them full-PDF previews of the book, and giving them all the info they need to sell it to their customers.  And we’re working on some big, outside of the box promotions that we hope are just crazy enough to work.  Time will indeed tell.

And we’ll play the Diamond pre-order game as well.  So, taking a cue from Kelly Sue, here is how YOU can pre-order SCAM in just FIVE not-so-simple steps!

Step One:  Click to download this SCAM #1 Pre-Order Form!

Step Two: Print it out on your laser or inkjet printer!  That’s right, kill evil trees…USE PAPER!

Step Three:  Locate your nearest comic shop!  (Use this comic shop locator if need be!)

Step Four: Hand the Pre-Order Form to the retailer!

Step Five: Come on back here and let us know you did!  We’ll sing your praises.

 

ALTERNATE PATH:  Okay, don’t want to leave the house or no comic shop in 100 miles? No paper in your printer? You can still pre-order from these online shops:

And that’s about all there is to it.  We’ll let you know next month whether or not we survived the gauntlet.

* It’s worth point out that despite the hurdles in place, Kelly wrote a “You Did It!” Tumblr post, reporting good pre-order numbers for Captain Marvel.  So, rickety old system or no, it’s clear that pre-ordering DOES make an impact.

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Category: Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at [email protected]

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  1. AlyssaCrow.com – Why Your Kickstarter is Gonna Fail | July 29, 2014

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